Families evacuated as fires rage in forests and moors

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The Independent Online

It could be a scene from the Rockies or Australia ­ but this forest fire was raging in South Wales yesterday. Police helicopters dumped water on the flames, which roared through forest at Cwmfelinfach, near Newport, after dozens of houses and a children's home were evacuated.

It could be a scene from the Rockies or Australia ­ but this forest fire was raging in South Wales yesterday. Police helicopters dumped water on the flames, which roared through forest at Cwmfelinfach, near Newport, after dozens of houses and a children's home were evacuated.

Last night, more than 100 firefighters were still battling the blaze, one of several to have broken out on moorland, heathland and in forests across Britain, helped by the unseasonably warm and dry weather. Strong winds were whipping up the flames. Hundreds of mature trees and a large area of bracken, gorse and shrubs have been destroyed.

"It's an enormous fire and it's done a lot of environmental damage already," said Senior Divisional Officer Gareth Pugh. "We are struggling to get it under control." Police and fire officers are investigating the blaze, which is thought to have been started deliberately.

Easter holidaymakers were asked by the Forestry Commission to be vigilant and mindful of fire danger. A spokesman, Willie Cairns, said: "Extinguish matches properly, be careful with barbecues and take rubbish home with you because even a small piece of glass, if hit by the sun in the right way, can cause a fire."

Large areas of moorland and scrub have been affected by fires in the past three days, from Scotland to the Peak District to Dorset.

Yesterday, firefighters were tackling a blaze spread over about 8 square miles of forest and grassland, which broke out in the Ayrshire countryside on Thursday night. Helicopters used water bombs against the fire, the main front of which was spread across more than 4 miles, but there were several pockets of grass and forestry alight within an area between Darvel and Cumnock.

The Peak District has also suffered. Kinder Scout, one of the area's most popular locations for walkers, was hit by a big moorland fire on Wednesday and Thursday and National Trust wardens and National Park rangers joined Derbyshire Fire Service to battle the blaze, which affected an area of 20 to 25 acres.

That fire was believed to have been started either by a discarded cigarette or arson. The unusually dry weather has made the moorland vegetation and the peat upon which it grows extremely dry, the National Trust said.

Other fires have affected the lowland heaths of southern England. On Thursday, a family of two adults and two children, as well as a woman and her dog, were rescued by helicopter after they became trapped during a huge fire on the edge of Verwood Forest in Dorset, and more than 120 firefighters were involved in tackling a blaze at West End Common, in Woking, Surrey, which closed several roads.

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